Muddy York, 1833


English immigrant David Cragg landed at the docks of York (Toronto) at ten o’clock in the evening of June 17, 1833. He and his family had journeyed long and far, sailing from England over two and a half months earlier upon an immigrant packet ship.  They had endured stormy seas, violent winds, rogue waves, cramped quarters, rationed food, and foul water.

They had put up with Quarantine Island (present day Grosse Ile) in Quebec, and suffered through a difficult voyage up the St. Lawrence River including climbing the rapids west of Montreal.

David had left three of his daughters behind at Prescot (sic), Ontario as domestics because he knew he would not have enough money to house and feed them once they arrived in York.

June 17 had been a sunny, hot day, the kind of summer day for which Toronto was famous. He piled their meagre but treasured belongings on the wharf, and his oldest son, Isaac guarded the boxes while David and his younger children sought shelter at a public house for the night.

Despite their hard Atlantic passage, David’s optimism shines through, in discovering his family clock had survived the voyage.

Toronto in the 1800's

Toronto in the 1800’s

He writes of his first day in York:

“June 18, Tuesday – A fine day – hot. We set to take a house or part of one this morning. Several to be met with. We took two rooms and the use of a cellar at no. 42, Hospital Street (Note from Barb: Hospital Street is present day Queen Street in Toronto.) A nice place and plenty of room for my family. Rent one pound per month. Hired a cart and got our goods to the house and got the clock unpacked and set up by ten o’clock in the forenoon and off it started tick-tock and had not received the least bruise or injury at all…

“…We have been 80 days from our home at Langthwaite to this place and are got to board and bed again in our own hired house at York, Upper Canada.”

David enjoyed walking the streets of York that first summer and he writes of his observations in his diary. He is quite taken by the everyday activities of the town, seemingly fascinated by small yet remarkable details:

“The streets, the name set up at every corner. The houses numbered. The number set over the door in fair figures. One side 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc. The other side 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. Streets wide. In some places a row of trees before the house doors. A foot path on either side of the street ten feet wide, some places flagged, some boarded, some nothing but soil. Streets not paved or Mac-Adamed. Very dusty when dry, desperately mucky when it rains. Very little sweeping of the footway and the steps at the doors, only some smarter houses and shops. Windows never cleaned since the house was made. Horsemen all go a-gallop through the dust and mud. Wagons and carts go along trot, loaded or empty. Wagons of hay at the rate of seven miles an hour. 50 or 60 stone for two horses. Oxen not so fast.

“People very civil, never a misbeholden word or skittish remark made upon one another, travel the streets as you will. An Englishman now and then may come up and say, “Let’s have a hold of your hand. I see you are an Englishman.” Same as neighbours from Cumberland or farmers of Cornwall. Shops all called stores, many public houses and all the grocery stores sell drams and beer as well as many others. In some streets every house is a store of some sort. I almost think there are more stores than customers. Stables confined to one spot. Markets begin in the morning. Things as dear as in Lancaster. A very deal of building going forward, a hundred houses or more. I should think at this time. No pigs have I seen in York. Cows a good number, rather small Irish looking and apt to be good milkers, all wear bells. Land about is bad and sandy up to the top. The bush close to the town. In places thick, heavy, rank with pine. Many thousands of feet of wood per acre.”

David Cragg Memorial - Greenback, Ontario

David Cragg Memorial – Greenbank, Ontario

David also wrote during his early days in York about his decision to emigrate from England to start a new life in Upper Canada:

“I am very satisfied with our situation here and as comfortable as could be expected. Our voyage hither from Lancaster having been exceeding long and very stormy, we have had a good deal of hardship to go through…Still we excaped (sic) without any particular loss or damage. We had our health very well all the way and myself I am as stout and hearty as any time this two or three years back.

“I am very happy I had the spirit and the resolve to emigrate hither and I am confident it will be of great advantage to my family.

“I have no fear if good luck attends, we shall be much better off than we had any chance of in old England…

“I’ll end my days in peace and comfort in a foreign land…I have done my duty now in this world to my family.”

David’s optimism is contagious and you can’t help but root for him as you read his diary. It strikes the heart heavy to read that less than two weeks after arriving in York, David is “taken with a lax” (stomach ailment causing chronic diarrhoea.) It is the beginning of the end for David. He dies eighteen months later, leaving his eight children to make their own way in the New World.

I have a few pictures of David Cragg’s memorial, but I chose to include this photograph because it depicts the young, remembering the old, paying tribute to the sacrifice countless thousands made to give their descendants a better life. I think it’s important to teach our children and grandchildren the precious legacy our forefathers left to us. They need to visit the graveyards, they need to hear the stories, they need to stop and consider from where they came…

And remember.


8 comments for “Muddy York, 1833

  1. Sarah Sheard
    December 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I’m researching Toronto at the time my great-great grandfather Joseph Sheard arrived here on June 30th, 1833 from Yorkshire England, via a Montreal steamer. He landed at Cooper’s Wharf, foot of Church Street. I am fascinated by David Cragg’s description of York that same month as Joseph Sheard landed. Sheard described an ugly fight breaking out on Church street as he was disembarking. He too fell ill, with typhus, within days of his arrival and almost died. Ships were dangerous places and the water in Toronto wasn’t purified.

    • Ann Carter
      December 22, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      I am researching the Watt and Rowntree families my ancestors. The name Sheard showed up as a wife Sarah Sheard married to Allan Watt my grandfather. Would this be any connection to yourself. As my ancestors also came to Canada from Scotland in the early 1800 settling in York. Your reply would be appreciated ….Ann (Watt) Carter

  2. Kathleen Bacher
    July 4, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    I am researching a different Cragg family that may have had some connection with Isaac & Timothy [sons of David] who settled in Reach Township. Appleyard Cragg, 1805-1886 & wife Jane Adamson we believe came to Canada from Lincolnshire, England around 1834. They had a daughter Mary Ann who married a William Hambley in Reach Township but Appleyard and his wife lived in Dereham, Oxford County in 1852 and them moved to Keppel, Grey County where they remained for the rest of their life. We were wondering if there would have been any connection between these two families. In your copy of the diary are any other members of the family named? I live in Barrie, Ontario just north of Toronto and frequently visit the Ontario Archives. Is a copy of the diary at the Archives?

  3. Andrew
    March 19, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    what is dying of lax???

  4. Michael Brady
    January 21, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Hi Barbara,
    I was trying to look up any information on GECO as my father lived in the residences with his mother and 3 siblings. I know very little of the history of the complex other than a thought that it had some relation to the war. Thus finding your website is excellent as it is very informative.

    Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding my father’s stay at GECO were not ideal. His mother had lost her husband to TB in 1945 and with 4 children, including my father (the oldest)it was obviously a tough time for the family. Tragically the 4 kids would also lose their mother as she died in December of 1953. She died at home in GECO Building 16 surrounded by her children.

    If you could let me know further details about the book(s) you have written about GECO and the times it would be greatly appreciated.
    Michael Brady

  5. Lyndon Stewart
    January 31, 2014 at 3:24 am

    Hi Barbara,

    I too am a descendant of David Cragg…eventually through my maternal grandfather Frank Cragg Wakely (and my son Carson Robert Cragg Stewart)…I would also be thrilled to arrange for a copy of the diary. Living in Guelph On, I could easily meet at some time and location that suits you. Thanks for sharing your research online!

    Many thanks,


  6. Jerry Cragg
    July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Hi I am a decendent of David Cragg, would you please let me know where I could get a copy of David’s diary. Also, I noticed that in the photo above the caption below the memorial says “Greenback”, which it is actually “Greenbank” on Cragg Road.

    Jerry Cragg

    • admin
      July 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Jerry, thanks for your post and the heads-up on the typo. As far as I am aware, there are only a few copies of David’s diary and these are kept within a local Cragg family. I have limited contact with the family, but might be able to get an additional copy if you pay for its reproduction. My copy would be of little use to you as it’s quite worn and marked up. Do you live in Southern Ontario? If you do, perhaps we could set up a time to meet and I’ll bring my copy of David’s diary. You can decide then if you want to pursue getting a copy. E-mail me if this is something you’d like to do. With kind regards, Barbara

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